Auto companies seek to restart factories
F ORD, FIAT Chrysler, Honda, and Toyota took steps Thursday to restart North American factories that have been closed to protect workers from the coronavirus pandemic.
The plants would reopen in early or mid-April, restoring the largest source of cash for automakers that generally book revenue when they ship vehicles to dealerships.
Auto companies, like other businesses, are trying to manage their way through the coronavirus crisis, which has forced factories to close amid employee concerns that they could catch the virus while working close to others at factory workstations.
Ford said it wants to reopen five North American assembly plants, starting with one in Mexico on April 6, and continuing with four in the United States on April 14. The move was immediately met with scepticism by the United Auto Workers union, UAW, which represents 56,000 Ford factory workers.
“The UAW continues to review with great caution and concern, decisions being made about restarting workplaces, especially at advanced dates,” union President Rory Gamble said in a statement.
Honda wants to reopen US and Canadian factories on April 7, a week later than originally planned, while Toyota plans to restart North American plants on April 20. Fiat Chrysler intends to reopen US and Canadian factories on April 14 depending on state restrictions and plant readiness. General Motors says it hasn’t decided yet when factories would restart. Most automakers said they would monitor the virus and adjust decisions if needed.
The factory decisions contrast with Italy, which on Thursday expanded a nationwide lockdown to include most heavy industry. Auto plants in Italy, which leads the world in virus deaths, already had been closed voluntarily.
The automakers’ moves in the US come as new auto sales are expected to fall dramatically for the month of March. Edmunds.com expects March sales to fall nearly 36 per cent from a year earlier.
Ford, in a release before the markets opened Thursday, said it’s aiming to reopen its factory in Hermosillo, Mexico, followed by its Dearborn, Michigan truck plant, Kentucky truck plant in Louisville, the Ohio Assembly Plant near Cleveland, and the Transit van line at the Kansas City plant. The company also wants to reopen some parts-making plants on the same day, including four in Michigan, which is among the states hardest hit by the virus.
The Dearborn, Michigan automaker says it will introduce additional safety measures to protect workers, but said it would give details later. Ford wants to reopen five North American assembly plants in April that were closed due to the threat of the novel coronavirus.
All three Detroit automakers suspended production at US factories a week ago under pressure from the United Auto Workers union, which had concerns about worker safety.
The Ford factories were to be closed until March 30. Combined, the Detroit automakers have about 150,000 unionised factory workers.
Two union workers from Fiat Chrysler plants in the Detroit area and Kokomo, Indiana, have died this week from complications due to the virus, but it’s not clear whether they got it at the factories or elsewhere.
The effort to reopen the plants comes as Amazon and other large warehouses continue operations, although some of the goods they’re distributing are considered essential.